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Saturday, January 14, 2012

Bigoni, Solborg and Brow - Hopscotch (Ilk Records 2011) ***½

Reviewed by Joe Higham

Maybe the first place to start with this album is to introduce the musicians. Bigoni, Solborg and Brow's full names are Francesco Bigoni (sax), Mark Solborg (guitar), Kevin Brow (drums). Since we don't always get much information with the CDs it's difficult to know whether (in this case) it's a group project, or someones specific group. However, listening to the album it doesn't take long to realize that this powerful trio produces some very accessible but challenging music. The three musicians compliment each other perfectly with no one musician standing alone but all acting together. The music veers between a sort of nu-jazz and semi-free, not unlike (if you know them) Trio AAB, Matthieu Donarier Trio, Hyperactive Kid and of course the long forgotten Human Feel (bless their cotton socks), in fact on first listen one cold possibly mistake Franceso Bigoni's playing for that of Chris Speed.

The album's 10 pieces have a nice mix of improvised and written themes that at times almost rock the house as opposed to the ballads which lean towards the melancholic ethereal feel that Jim Black's Alasnoaxis favors. The group blows up a powerful wind on tunes such as 'Elope Soon' (tk2), a rocking tune with a minimalistic pounding guitar/sax theme which also sets the scene for the tunes that follow. 'Brainwashing' (tk4) is a high powered shuffle tune that turns towards some excellent free form improvisation after the theme. 'Meet Mr Green'(tk5) a contrapuntal melody that uses the same idea for the solo with the sax and guitar shadowing each other closely. However not all the tunes race along at high speed, 'Almost' (tk6) is a gentle ballad type melody that is tender and sparse. What's interesting about this tune is that the melody and improvisation meld together almost without one noticing.

All the players have strong voices. Bigoni's sax almost cries at times such as on the lovely frail sounding '2' (tk1) and his tune 'Not Interesting, But True' (tk9). Here he repeats some very simple melodic ideas that the group builds on gradually giving the impression that each musician is searching for a new melody, very effective! But it is probably Mark Solborg's guitar which most links together the three players. His playing is particularly strong with a wide sonic pallet that comes up with a new solution for every tune. His playing is discreet yet utterly compelling. All in all this is very clearly a band which is a product of the post downtown movement, mixing jazz, rock and improv into a highly listenable mix which has a broad appeal…..well X-Factor listeners' should maybe be warned!

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